Starting work on Atchison’s Army Boxcar – fixing the walls.

The first step in actually working on the car was to replace the four worst wall panels. The side walls are constructed of 4’ wide ¾” thick sheets of plywood bolted to the steel frame of the wall. Luckily, the wall panels were just over seven feet tall, so standard 4X8 sheets of plywood could be used.

New and old wall panels side by side. The old panel was placed on top of the new panel to serve as a template for drilling the bolt holes. February 13, 2017.

Each wall panel (there are 8 on each side of the car) is bolted on with around 40 3/8” bolts, held on with square nuts. The nuts used when the car was originally assembled had a “V” groove cut across their face and were crimped after they were tightened. Thus, loosening them was an impossibility, and each one had to be cut off with a grinder. (This was true of every bolt on the car. All said and done, the Army boxcar project has involved cutting off and reinstalling around 850 bolts and hand tightening a like number of 3/8” square nuts.)

I first labeled the wall panels as to their location in the car, cut the bolts, removed the panels and then brought them home to drill the holes. Rather than measure all of the various hole locations, I used the original wall panels as templates, laying them atop the new panels and drilling the holes straight through. This worked amazingly well, and I only had to redrill a couple of the holes when installing the new panels.

Along with the bolt holes, each of the panels had clearance holes for the rivets that hold the parts of the steel wall frame together. The clearance holes were 1 ½” in diameter and were drilled in different manners on the original wall panels. The panels removed from the south side of the car had the clearance holes drilled only ¾ of the way through the plywood, so that the interior of the wall was smooth. Those on the north side of the car had the clearance holes drilled all the way through the panel. I copied the appropriate original style for each of the new wall panels.

Before installing the new wall panels, I painted them primer on the outside and light gray on the inside. While the insides of the wall panels were not painted originally, they were in need of a sealant both to protect them and keep visitors from getting splinters, so it was decided to paint the interior of the walls a light gray, using oil based paint. (As a side note, my experience has shown that latex paints are beyond worthless on any wooden object that is subject to weather exposure. The latex paint traps moisture between the paint and the wood and the wood rots away underneath the paint.)

On the inside of the car, there are metal panels that cover the gap between each of the plywood wall panels. These were originally painted the same olive drab/Army green as the exterior of the car and were repainted as such, using a mix of Rustoleum “Hunter Green” and “Rusty Metal Primer” paints mixed to approximate the original color.

With the wall panels replaced and the interior painted, it was time to turn to fixing the floor.

New wall panel installed on the north side of the car. February 28, 2017.

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